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Mental Health Awareness Week: Q&A with Director of Athlete Health Craig Ranson

Mental Health Awareness Week: Q&A with Director of Athlete Health Craig Ranson

James Platt | 19 May 2020

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and English Institute of Sport (EIS) Director of Athlete Health Craig Ranson has shared his thoughts on positive mental health and performance, support available for athletes and coping with the challenges of lockdown.

What does your role as the EIS Director of Athlete Health consist of?

The role is to oversee the physical and mental health strategy across the high performance system. We have a dedicated team within the EIS who work very closely with doctors, physiotherapists and other practitioners involved in athletes’ physical and mental health. The dedicated team has a focus on athlete health surveillance activities, so using our medical records to find out which are the health problems that have the biggest burden on athlete availability. Particular focus for us is on the areas of respiratory health, female athlete health and topically, mental health.

How much significance is now put on an athlete’s all-round wellbeing?

It has probably evolved over the past 10 years or so around the world. There’s been a step change this cycle especially for the British high performance system in that we have a dedicated athlete health strategy and a dedicated team who work very closely with other professionals involved in athlete health. The EIS has had sports doctors and physiotherapists embedded in sports for the past 20 years and having a central team that works very closely to support them to optimise athlete mental health is a unique development in this cycle.

How big is the correlation between positive mental health and athlete performance?

Sport used to focus primarily on physical health, but mental health has emerged as a considerable topic through this cycle. Now we’re seeing there is interdependency between physical and mental health, with optimal preparation and performance requiring both physical and mental health. We try not to make a distinction too much anymore.

What advice have you been giving to athletes during this period to support their mental health?

It’s very difficult to give one general overview as everyone is different and everyone has very different circumstances. Some of our athletes will be shielding because they’re particularly vulnerable while others will be getting on with a relatively normal training regime, so it varies from sport to sport and athlete to athlete.

But we’re well prepared and having the foresight to have a dedicated mental health team who work very closely with sports’ doctors, psychologists and performance lifestyle advisors in particular has meant we’re very well set-up now to support an athletes’ social needs even in a time of change – no matter the circumstance.

The athletes are very good as well. People in the press have asked me how the athletes are coping with all this change, but athletes cope with change all the time. They travel around the world, they’re used to operating in unfamiliar circumstances, having to train out of hotel rooms so they’re very, very good at adapting. Some have needed more support than others, but in general they’ve coped well.

How proud are you of the support the EIS provides for an athlete’s all round wellbeing?

I think the infrastructure we’ve put in place and the collaboration across the system has allowed us to provide world leading support. I don’t think I would want to be in any other system in the world if I were an athlete at this stage. Athletes have access to excellent support, and I think the high performance system in general is doing a very good job to help care for athletes. We do have to be reactive to a certain extent as it’s an unfamiliar situation for everyone, but that’s underpinned by a very good team and very good people, structures and resources.